High Speed Trains and Yaks – benefits to a civilised society.

Last week I was stimulated by very different items in the media. On Monday, in the London Evening Standard, journalist Amol Rajan wrote an article under the headline “In this rich city my neighbour died in poverty, alone”. He described how someone who lived in his block, a man with severe learning difficulties, who had suffered all his life yet was always cheerful and friendly, was let down by those who lived close to him; not his family but those who describe themselves as caring neighbours.

On Thursday, I watched a wonderful documentary on BBC television called Wild Shepherdess. This story followed a Welsh sheep farmer as she explored relationships between people from other cultures and their animals. The episode I saw took her to a remote area of north-east Afghanistan called the Wakhan Corridor. Part of the interest for me was that it was set in Afghanistan. The people were friendly and welcoming and there was not a gun is sight, contrary to images we know of contemporary Afghanistan.

Wakhi shepherdsAs the film unfolded, we were shown the natural way the Wakhi people follow ancient rituals, work hard and unceasingly as they care for their animals and each other – in particular the elderly. The film maker, Kate Humble, describes the lifestyle as primitive, certainly unsophisticated, illiterate and simple, but not uncivilised. I really think if you can get this on the BBC i-player it is worth watching. Episode 2, shown on Friday 28 June took Kate to the Andes in Peru where she met alpaca farmers.

What particularly moved me were the relationships between primitive and civilised, as descriptors of a culture. What are the markers of a civilised society? Surely one of them is that people do not die alone, in poverty, in the heart of a community. What does it say about how we live our lives? Clearly we are sophisticated, educated, technological and so called advanced, but how well do we care for those around us in need? The Wakhi, on the other hand, do not have a vehicle, apart from a few horses and saddled yaks, have never seen a computer or mobile phone and live in basic yurts (nomadic tents), yet they care for each other intensely. Which society, I wonder, is more civilised.

As I write this, I reflect on George Osborne’s financial statement and spending review, with its extra £12 billion to be spent on HS2. I guess that’s another mark of an advanced culture, but how will getting to Birmingham twenty minutes quicker make our society any more civilised? How would you spend £100 billion?

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
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3 Responses to High Speed Trains and Yaks – benefits to a civilised society.

  1. albertswright says:

    I am not in support of HS2 and would rather the money was spent on the internet Super Highway than Road or Rail.

    Nor did I see the programme . As for “What are the markers of a civilised society?….”

    I am not sure that ” Surely one of them is that people do not die alone, in poverty, in the heart of a community. ” It depends on the individual case.

    I would however agree that less “civilised societies” like the Wakhi, who ” live in basic yurts (nomadic tents), yet they care for each other intensely. ” are in this aspect, more to be admired.

  2. I agree entirely. A few years ago I visited Tibet and met with some nomads there, living in financial poverty, scraping a living from their yak herds in a harsh and unforgiving landscape, and was struck by the constant smiles with which I was greeted and the care that they provided for everyone in their travelling community. The fact that they had to work so hard to find food and water seemed to bring them together more, to cooperate on the heavy work of packing up their tents and ensuring that everyone was able to make it – on foot or on a yak – to the next camping ground. There was a pride in their demeanour and a quiet confidence and calmness that I think came from the security they gained from the way they supported each other.

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